In 2013, David Cameron promised at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland that Britain would publish a register of business interests fully open to the public. Four years later, the UK’s tax havens of overseas territories and crown dependencies remain as opaque as ever. A powerful alliance of big business and the super-wealthy have used lawyers and lobbyists to cynically exploit human rights laws to ensure tax havens keep secret the real identities of those who benefit from their low taxes. When the Human Rights Act became law in 2000, it was supposed to recalibrate the rights of the weak against the powerful. But in the last 17 years, legal advisers to big business and vested interests have learned how to use it to protect their clients’ wealth and reputations.
The British law firm, Appleby, warned that governments were “eroding” privacy protection. On the Isle of Man, an alliance of tycoons and secretive billionaires argued that their human rights would be infringed if the UK tax haven was to make their identities known to the public. When the Isle of Man government put the proposal to the business community, the Manx government attracted a wave of “references to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and its provisions covering the right to a private life.” The secretive businesses that use the Isle of Man as a tax haven argued that they would be “affected adversely by a loss of privacy”. They warned that “investors in companies which carry out activities which are legitimate, but may be controversial” would have their privacy compromised. The UK’s crown dependencies have now meekly fallen into line and agreed to bar the public from access to the beneficial ownership register. “The Isle of Man government has a duty towards those who create wealth in the island, provide jobs for its residents and contribute to its tax revenues ... Taking into account the above, the Isle of Man government has therefore concluded that a public register of beneficial ownership is not an appropriate option for the island.”
There is one law for the super tax avoider and another for the ordinary taxpayer.